Rhode Island is known for being the smallest state in America and for being one of the 13 original colonies. Rhode Island is famous for its New England heritage as well as its lighthouses and shoreline.
Many people associate Rhode Island with Family Guy or being the smallest state, but there’s much more to it than that! For starters, it may be the smallest state, but its State House has the fourth-largest stone dome in the world!
Rhode Island also has a surprisingly long coastline, and, let’s face it, we’ve all wondered why it’s called an island when it’s clearly not one. In this article, we will answer that question and discover more about what makes Rhode Island famous.
- 1 What is Rhode Island Known For? These 25 Things!
- 1.1 1. Providence, Rhode Island
- 1.2 2. Brown University
- 1.3 3. Roger Williams
- 1.4 4. Why is it called Rhode Island?
- 1.5 5. Newport, Rhode Island
- 1.6 6. Marble House
- 1.7 7. South Kingstown, Rhode Island
- 1.8 8. The Ocean State
- 1.9 9. Narragansett Bay
- 1.10 10. Narragansett, Rhode Island
- 1.11 11. Aquidneck Island
- 1.12 12. Block Island
- 1.13 13. Lighthouses
- 1.14 14. Rhode Island Clam Chowder
- 1.15 15. Coffee Milk
- 1.16 16. Rhode Island Culture
- 1.17 17. New York System
- 1.18 18. Johnnycakes
- 1.19 19. Nine Men’s Misery Monument
- 1.20 20. Providence’s Historic Baptist Church
- 1.21 21. Fort Adams State Park
- 1.22 22. The Perry Family
- 1.23 23. Colt State Park
- 1.24 24. Jewelry
- 1.25 25. Dave’s Fresh Marketplace
- 2 FAQs About Famous Rhode Island Things
Advertising Disclosure: What States is a for profit reference website, supported by advertisements. Thank you for supporting our mission to make geography fun for all!
What is Rhode Island Known For? These 25 Things!
1. Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s state capital is also the largest city in the state. Originally founded by Roger Williams (more on him later) in 1636, the city was the first permanent white settlement in what would later become Rhode Island. Rhode Island’s formal name had, for years, been “The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” until recent legislation changed that after controversy regarding the word “plantation.”
Aside from the historical significance, the city holds to Rhode Island, one can find numerous attractions in Downtown Providence and the surrounding area. Without a doubt, the most unique is the Big Blue Bug. The Big Blue Bug, the proud mascot of the pest control service of the same name, towers over I-95 and has been featured in several movies and television shows.
For a more sophisticated Providence experience the Rough Point Museum. This sprawling mansion, originally built by the industrial mogul Vanderbilt family, now opens its doors to the public, showcasing the history of the Gilded Age.
❓ Trivia Time: The Vanderbilts had many mansions throughout America. North Carolina is known for having the largest, not just of their homes, but of any private residence in America.
2. Brown University
Another famous attraction in Providence is Brown University. Founded in 1764, it is the seventh-oldest school of higher education in America. Brown University also boasts the oldest engineering program of the Ivy League schools and the oldest applied mathematics program of any school in the United States.
3. Roger Williams
Rhode Island began as a colony founded by English theologian Roger Williams. Williams founded Rhode Island as the first colony to offer religious freedom to the religious minorities of the day.
He also sought to implement a new degree of political freedom, not giving any one Protestant denomination political privilege. Williams also pursued more diplomatic relations with the local Native Americans than many of his contemporaries.
4. Why is it called Rhode Island?
Despite its name, Rhode Island is not an island. Two theories exist. One theory states that Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed past the area of present-day Aquidneck Island, likening that island to the Greek island of Rhodes. The name stuck, and, during the English colonial era, broadened was used to refer to the surrounding area.
Another theory states that Dutch explorer Adrian Block noticed the red clay on the shores of the same island. He gave it the name, in Dutch, “Roodt Eylandt” meaning “red island.”
Double vowels in Dutch signify the long sounds in English, so, when the English acquired the land, the mistranslation may have occurred. Some have also conjectured that the red autumn foliage on the island may have inspired Block, but there’s no way to be certain.
5. Newport, Rhode Island
Another famous city in Rhode Island is Newport. This resort town on Aquidneck Island houses a large fleet of private yachts and hosts the America’s Cup sailing competition. Newport is also the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, built on the site of the first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championship in 1881.
Founded in 1639, Newport has a long history, and, with that, many historical buildings. Two examples of this are the White Horse Tavern, believed to be the oldest tavern in America, and the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in America.
❗ Fun Fact: Rhode Island has the Tennis Hall of Fame, but did you know Ohio is famous for both the Football and the Rock and Roll Halls of Fame?
6. Marble House
One of the more prestigious attractions in Newport is the Marble House mansion. In the linked article, Wikipedia relates that this mansion, also built by the Vanderbilts, was constructed as a summer “cottage.” Like Rough Point, Marble House also now functions as a museum, offering visitors of all walks of life a glimpse at the opulence of the Gilded Age elites.
7. South Kingstown, Rhode Island
Newport is a resort town, but it may be a bit too big and ritzy for some people’s tastes. South Kingstown, by contrast, has a much cozier seaside-town charm to it. Here, scenic beaches stretch along the coast, lapped by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The surrounding countryside features pleasant farmlands, walking trails, and bike paths.
8. The Ocean State
According to a page on Rhode Island’s official website, the state acquired this nickname as a tourism promotion. The article relates that the Rhode Island Tourism Department advertises more than 400 miles of coastline for visiting. Not a bad figure considering the relatively small size of the state. This also means that Rhode Islanders, no matter where they live in the state, are never more than a 30-minute drive from the sea.
9. Narragansett Bay
Many Rhode Islanders have this body of water to thank for making the ocean so accessible. Covering an area of 147 square miles, Narragansett Bay spans much of the eastern border with Massachusetts. Islands abound in the bay, contributing to the extensive shoreline of the Ocean State.
❓ Trivia Time: What state has the most shoreline?
10. Narragansett, Rhode Island
This tranquil seaside town on the shores of Narragansett Bay used to belong to South Kingstown. However, it was separated in 1888 and later incorporated as its own town in 1901. Narragansett also offers visitors and locals a peaceful retreat by the sea. Narragansett Town Beach is a popular place to soak up the sun or go for a swim. The nearby sand dunes serve as a habitat for a variety of birds.
11. Aquidneck Island
The island that wound up giving Rhode Island its name is properly known as Aquidneck, coming from a local native word of uncertain meaning. Newport may be the main attraction today, but there are other cities, such as Portsmouth and Middletown on the island as well. Aquidneck is also the largest island of the several islands in the state.
12. Block Island
This island bears the name of the Dutch explorer who some say gave the state its name. It sits out in the Atlantic Ocean between the Rhode Island mainland and the easternmost tip of New York’s Long Island.
With sandy beaches and extensive hiking and biking trails, Block Island is a popular tourist destination in summer. Other maritime activities such as sailing and fishing are also popular ways to pass the time in the warmer months.
Like any place in coastal America, Rhode Island has a wealth of lighthouses. Prudence Island Light, built in 1823, is the oldest lighthouse in the state. Watch Hill Lighthouse, built in 1827 stands on the site of an older beacon dating to 1745. At 66’ tall, the Sakonnet Point Light is the tallest lighthouse in the state. Visitors can even stay overnight at the Rose Island Lighthouse.
❓ Trivia Time: Which state has the most lighthouses?
14. Rhode Island Clam Chowder
Like any place in New England, Rhode Island is famous for its clam chowder. When most people think of this hearty seafood stew, the image that comes to mind is the classic “white chowder” which Massachusetts is known for. The Rhode Island variety omits the cream that gives its neighbor’s stew its classic color. This gives it its translucent quality which led to it also being called “clear chowder.”
❓ Trivia Time: What states make up New England?
15. Coffee Milk
Rhode Islanders may spare the dairy in their soup recipes, but they put it to good use in their official state drink–coffee milk. Some speculate that, long before lattes took over the coffee scene in America, even as early as the 19th century, Italian immigrants brought the recipe with them from overseas.
The drink is made by mixing coffee syrup (or a sweetened coffee concentrate) with cold milk, much in the same fashion as chocolate milk. The drink grew in popularity as the 20th century progressed and, on July 29, 1993, gained recognition as the official drink of the Ocean State.
16. Rhode Island Culture
Rhode Island boasts a surprisingly diverse cultural heritage despite its small physical size. In addition to the previously mentioned cultures, Rhode Island saw significant immigration from Portugal, Ireland, China, Guatemala, and many other locations across the world. Rhode Island is unique in that it is the only state that officially celebrates the victory over Japan in World War II.
Like surrounding states, Rhode Island is known for its “New England” accent. Some would say that the local variation is a sort of middle ground between Boston and New York accents. Rhode Islanders may not mind the comparison, but don’t even think of trying to suggest common ground between Yankees and Red Sox fans! New York is well-known for its long-standing rivalry with Boston.
17. New York System
Besides potential linguistic links, Rhode Island has a sausage link of sorts with the Big Apple. When you’re done gagging on that bad pun, consider fixing one of these uniquely Rhode Island treats (ignore the fact that they’re called gaggers, the earlier gag reference was purely coincidental!).
The dish usually substitutes the traditional beef frank with one made of pork and veal. It is then topped with mustard, onions, celery salt, and a sauce consisting mostly of ground beef.
No one knows for sure why they’re called New York System, but some say that it came about due to the Big Apple’s association with hot dogs. True, it’s not technically a hot dog in this dish, but why waste time speculating when there’s good food waiting?
❗ Fun Fact: Did you know that there is a glacier in Alaska that is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island? Check out our article on what Alaska is known for to find out more!
When it comes to comfort food, Rhode Island’s johnnycakes are hard to beat. These cornmeal pancakes are a perfect way to start the day, especially drizzled with maple syrup and a tall glass of coffee milk.
19. Nine Men’s Misery Monument
This simple stone memorial harkens back to a clash that occurred in King Philip’s War in 1676. After a battle at the present-day Central Falls in northern Rhode Island, ten English soldiers were captured and tortured by opposing forces. Nine of them died, while the tenth escaped and lived to tell what had happened. Some consider this site to be the oldest veterans memorial in America.
20. Providence’s Historic Baptist Church
Rhode Island has more than one first when it comes to historic locations. Many towns in America have a First Baptist Church, but only Providence, Rhode Island has the First Baptist Church in America. This building is indeed the oldest Baptist house of worship in the United States, being established in 1638 by Roger Williams himself.
21. Fort Adams State Park
Fort Adams at one time served as a coastal defense, but the U.S. military decommissioned it after the Second World War. Today, a state park preserves the memory of this military installation.
One can even reserve rooms in the halls of the historical buildings for dinners and other private events. Summertime sees several concerts hosted at the state park, the most famous being the annual Jazz Festival and Folk Festival.
22. The Perry Family
Another proud chapter in the Ocean State’s naval history is the Perry family. American history buffs know the brothers Matthew C. Perry and Oliver Hazard Perry for their exploits in the War of 1812. Matthew Perry may be best known for opening relations with Japan after Japan’s extended policy of isolationism during the Tokugawa Era. The town of Erie, Pennsylvania is known for preserving Oliver Perry’s heroism in the Battle of Lake Erie.
23. Colt State Park
This park in the town of Bristol, Rhode Island is considered the “gem” of the Rhode Island State Park system. The grounds of Colt State Park encompass 464 acres of lawns, sandy shorelines, miles of paths, and historic structures. Numerous picnic gazebos dot the landscape as well, and it’s hard to pick a better place to unwind on a sunny Rhode Island summer day.
At one time, Rhode Island was considered to be the Jewelry Capital of the World. The costume jewelry industry boomed in the 1940s and 1950s but kept going strong well into the rest of the 20th century.
Jewelry also has a bit of history here that stretches further back in time. Back around the turn of the 19th century, Providence jeweler Nehemiah Dodge fused gold and copper using silver solder to create the first gold plating in America. The jewelry trade continued to grow steadily in Rhode Island, reaching its zenith in the 1940s.
25. Dave’s Fresh Marketplace
This chain of independent grocery stores is the most popular shopping destination (for food, that is) in the state of Rhode Island. The chain prides itself on fresh, quality goods and top-notch customer service. Dave’s also strives to give back to local Rhode Island communities, contributing to charitable organizations state-wide.
👉 Read Next: What is Each of the 50 States Known For?
FAQs About Famous Rhode Island Things
What famous people are from Rhode Island?
James Woods, Seth MacFarlane, and H.P. Lovecraft come from Rhode Island.
What are some famous foods from Rhode Island?
Clam cakes, Rhode Island clam chowder, coffee milk, and New York System are Rhode Island specialties.
Is Rhode Island the first state?
Rhode Island was the 13th of the 13 original colonies to join the Union. It was the first to declare independence from Britain in favor of autonomous local governance, though.
Now you don’t have to wonder “what is Rhode Island known for” anymore!
Good things come in small packages, they say, and Rhode Island is a great example of that proverb. If you want to learn more about Rhode Island’s next-door neighbor, check out the following article: “What is Connecticut Known For?”